Poker Hall of Fame

So the WSOP recently released it’s ten nominees for induction into the 2014 Poker Hall of Fame. The process for this appears to be a combination of a fan vote, with some additions where necessary. For example, Bob Hooks is on the list and I can’t imagine he was voted in by the fans. I’m embarrassed to say that while I have heard the name before, I have no idea who he is or what his accomplishments are. If I don’t know, then the only ones who would, would likely have to be poker historians. I don’t think the general public is familiar with him, so I’m led to believe that his name was added by the WSOP.

This years list of nominees looks like this:

Chris Bjorin
Bruno Fitoussi
Ted Forrest
Jen Harman
Bob Hooks
Mike Matusow
Jack McClelland
Daniel Negreanu
Huckleberry Seed

Info on players here: HOF Bios

Plenty of great, and likely deserving players not on this list. Too many to mention, but a few highlights would include players like Gus Hansen, John Juanda, and Carlos Mortensen. Regardless, any list will always be open to scrutiny and second guessing, but it is surprising to see these names not on the ballot in 2014.

Should age matter?

The real question I have for all of you is this: should Hall of Fame voters choose the person most deserving of the award, or should age be a factor? About 6 years ago they instituted a rule that you must be 40 years of age or older to be inducted. This addresses one of the key criteria for induction, “stood the test of time.” So the question is whether or not someone who is 75 years old, no longer at their peak or even playing, trumps the credentials of someone 45 years old who has been in the game for, say, 20 odd years?

What do they do in other Hall of Fames? I am not too familiar with what usually happens with other Hall of Fames so I’m genuinely asking, but instinctively I would think that the player who is most qualified based on the criteria should always be the one who gets in. So for example, If the NHL had a 40+ rule, would it make sense to induct a player like Jaromir Jagr, despite the fact that he is still playing competitively, over a player like Lanny McDonald, who is much older, but who maybe wasn’t as accomplished in his career? I think so.

Maybe I’m wrong about this, I’m open to that, but it just makes sense to me to induct the most deserving person each year. For a poker example, let’s look at the careers of Chris Bjorin and John Juanda. Bjorin has been a beast for ages, but if you compared the stats of both players in terms of how they meet the criteria, I think Juanda clearly gets the edge. His tournament results are better overall, and he has played the highest stakes cash games in the world, gaining the respect of his peers. Bjorin is no slouch, and I want it to be clear that I think he is a fantastic player that meets much of the criteria, but I think Juanda is even more qualified. Bjorin is 66, Juanda is just 43. Should that matter? Personally I think absolutely not.


What role does being a nice guy play?

I don’t think the HOF should be a popularity contest. Being a “nice guy” isn’t one of the criteria. I don’t think anyone would classify Johnny Moss or Stu Ungar as nice guys, but both clearly have a place in the poker hall of fame. Now, Tom McEvoy is most certainly a nice guy, and I think that’s one of the key reasons he was inducted last year, despite their being more qualified candidates based on the criteria.

This was my argument against Scotty Nguyen’s induction being delayed because of his drunken antics during the $50k Player Championship on ESPN. On paper, Scotty fulfilled all the criteria. There is one criteria relating to non players, the builders category, that isn’t really applicable to players. The criteria is listed as follows:

• A player must have played poker against acknowledged top competition
• Be a minimum of 40 years old at time of nomination
• Played for high stakes
• Played consistently well, gaining the respect of peers
• Stood the test of time
• Or, for non-players, contributed to the overall growth and success of the game of poker, with indelible positive and lasting results.

Notice it says “Or, for non-players.” I read that as meaning if you qualify on the first five, that last one isn’t a requirement. The media writing about Scotty not getting into the HOF as a result of his antics that night was just way off base! Again, the poker hall of fame isn’t for nice guys, its for kick ass poker players!

Even Howard Lederer, infamous for his involvement in the FTP scandal, should not be excluded based on that. I don’t believe Howard meets the criteria, but the negative mark he left on the game shouldn’t be a consideration unless he was being considered for the HOF in the builders category exclusively. If he was a player that met the first five criteria, I would support his induction. Where do you draw the line? If a player has a criminal record unrelated to poker, should that have anything to do with his place in the poker hall of fame? Not in my opinion. Not at all.


“He will get in eventually, let some others get in first”

I’ve heard this one A LOT and it doesn’t make sense to me. There is already a built in age criteria, 40+ years of age. A player who is 60 is no more qualified than a player who is 40, they both meet the criteria equally. You could debate that a 40 year old hasn’t stood the test of time compared to a 60 year old, but what if that 40 year old has been in the game for close to 20 years? The question of whether a player has stood the test of time is up to the voters. Is a 50 year old who is still competitive at high levels less qualified on the “stood the test of time” criteria than a 70 year old who hasn’t played competitively in 15 years?

Doyle Brunson recently said on twitter that he believes an inductee must meet ALL the criteria. I’m assuming he means the five related to players and not necessarily the one for the builders category. When I first got into poker in the late 90’s, you didn’t have a chance in hell of getting in the hall of fame unless you ponied up in the big cash games in Vegas. Being a great tournament player wasn’t enough. Playing against “acknowledged top competition” meant specifically that you had to be a high stakes cash game player. Well, the poker world looks very different today and there are high stakes game from LA to Macau, and of course on the internet.

When they made the switch to two inductions per year, a byproduct of that is that it waters down the hall of fame. It will mean that there will be a lot more members in there that are questionable. Imagine how different the poker hall of fame looks if in the last 10 years, only one person entered each year? Now, I’m not suggesting that a change back to one inductee per year is necessary, but I would hope that the voters would really stick to the listed criteria closely. A guy being a jerk, or one who isn’t media friendly, is NOT reason to keep them out of the hall.

I think the biggest mistake the media and others make when it comes to voting, is focusing on how good of a poker ambassador a player is. They shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter at all. Again, unless the person is being considered in the builders category. That’s where I would put a guy like Bruno Fitoussi. He qualifies on all the criteria, but mostly it’s his contribution as a pioneer in spreading the game globally and getting Americans to make the trip over to Paris before the inception of The World Poker Tour. He was instrumental in poker becoming more of a global game.

When I read articles written by various poker media outlets I think there is way too much emphasis on things that have nothing at all to do with the criteria. When Phil Ivey turns 40, he deserves to be in. That would be true even if in the next three years he finds himself in a Ray Rice like scandal, curses the game, shuns the media, or even pees on a dealers leg after losing a pot.

So please, no more discussion about a players contribution to the game unless you are specifically talking about the builders category. Let’s focus on what matters, the players actual poker playing ability. I don’t care about their personality or what they have given back to the game. If they meet the criteria, put em in the hall.